Sunday, April 29, 2007

Milt and His Freakin' Trip

The blight of the early reader is the dearth of good engaging stories to read. As my son masters an ever-expanding vocabulary of words that he can read, he brings home stories to review these words. Working with a limited vocabulary as they do, the stories are usually pretty dull. And, in comparison to the chapter books that I read him, the stories are just painful.

But we perservere and at bedtime each evening J.T. reads a little from his practice stories before I read from our chapter book (right now, that's a book in the The Indian in the Cupboard series, a set of an amazing stories by Lynne Banks Reid). A few nights back, as J.T. read the story of Milt who is taking a trip with a bag packed full of milk and ham for his snack, J.T had some concerns. First off, he felt that the ham and milk would go bad in the absence of a cooler. I agreed but allowed that creative license must be given. But as Milt droned on and on about the trip he wants to take, J.T. grew exasperated. "I know he wants to take a trip," my boy announced, "BUT I JUST DON'T CARE."

And though it likely means I am a bad parent, I laughed out loud because I had been feeling exactly the same way.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Wings – Sunday Scribblings

When I was in the 7th grade, after school I rode the bus to my mother's school (she taught the 3rd grade) and I would do my homework while she finished up her day. By that time of day her students had left and she would often have a conversation with the other teachers in the school. As children often are, I was privy to these adult conversations and one of them stands out in my mind.

To a friend whose daughter was graduating high school and moving away to attend college, my mother said, "only the healthy birds leave the nest." At the time, I didn't quite understand what she meant. But years later, I teach high school and I now know exactly what she meant. This year I teach a class of 9th graders, a class of 11th graders, and two classes of 12th graders. My classroom is filled with birds who are in various stages of preparation to leave the nest. And I think often about the wings they will need to take flight.

The 9th graders still have a few years to go but in just one school year, I have watched some of them develop the beginnings of the independence and bravery that they will require. They aren't really thinking of leaving the nest, so most have little anxiety about their long-term future. They are fixated on the next few weeks and the prospect of summer vacation. Though it's closer than they think, taking flight seems well in the distance for this group.

The 11th graders have begun the process of looking for a college. They are actively thinking about their future and most are excited. Right now, it feels as if the world is their oyster and this future of independence and freedom is still far away. But in a few weeks, when the seniors finish school and the juniors assume the position of power in the senior lounge, they will realize that the final stages of their journey out of the nest has truly begun. And suddenly they will begin to contemplate what it will really mean to leave.

Right now, the 12th graders are excited. While a few are still weighing their college options, most have made a decision. There is a certain amount of senioritus at work amongst them. But others are more somber as they consider what the next few months will bring. My school is pre-K through the 12 grade and a number of the students have been here for all of their schooling. For them, contemplation of the future is tempered by the knowledge that they are about to leave a school that has been their second home for nearly all of their life.

We spend a lot of time preparing them to leave the nest. From the moment they walk in our door, whether at age 4 or at age 14, it's our goal to send them on. We know that we don't get to keep them. We know that we must prepare them to successfully leave the nest. And in many more ways than they probably know, we have helped them to grow the wings this will require. When graduation comes, and they walk across the stage, some tentative and some proud, but nearly all of them ready to go, I will watch them with tears in my eyes. I know every one of them, some of them very well. I know that many are ready to embrace the uncertainty of life out of the nest. I know that some will struggle. And I know how exciting and how stressful the next few years will be. But I see a glimmer of the adults they will become. I see that that they are one step closer to building a nest of their very own. Mostly I will know that we've done our job well.

And then I will come home to my own nest, and to my own 7 year old bird. I will try to imagine that one day he will want to leave our nest. I know that it's my job to see that this happens for him. But I will tell myself that there is still time, still years and years before I watch him take flight from our nest.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Basement Bilge, round 2

We had some big rain last night. For more than a week now, my basement had been dry. Please note the use of the phrase "had been." When I heard the rain falling at 2 am, I checked things out. All was well. But by this morning, the tide had turned and I was awash in water. I came downstairs at 6:30 in the morning to discover that I would need to swap my linen skirt for shorts, a t-shirt and my water-tolerant flip flops (a festive green). It's not nearly as bad as last week, but honestly, I'm over it.

There was enough water to use my powerful 3600 gallon an hour pump for the first 30 minutes. I did that all by myself, as the labor crew was still tucked into his warm and soft bed. The pump needs to be immersed in two inches of water, so once I got the water below that level, I had to revert to the wet/dry vac. I had returned the 16.5 gallon vac to its rightful owner so that left me with my 2.5 gallon vac. As one might imagine, that is not a particularly efficient method.

Today's plan is to secure a larger wet/dry vac,for my long-term use because OBVIOUSLY this problem isn't going away soon. The rain is forecast to stop by 2 pm and the sun should be out this weekend. But, honestly, I need to be done with this particular brand of fun.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


One of the things that I like the best about my school is the multicultural environment. It was the first thing I noticed when I interviewed at the school. My son takes for granted the fact that his classmates celebrate Passover, Christmas, Ramadan, Chinese New Year, and Diwali. The ease and beauty of this multiculturalism is sometimes lost on our students, who can't fathom that people would discriminate on the basis of race or religion.

But it isn't lost on me. And my fellow teacher, Mrs. D, who grew up in India and teaches Spanish, is a perfect example of our multicultural world. Mrs. D is my touchstone for all things Indian ----- from cuisine to cultural patterns and the pronunciation of words ----- and I love the sound of her lyrical voice. Like me, she is a relative newcomer to New Jersey. Like me, her family is far away. And like me, she has a son, R, a young man who is increasingly taller than his mother but still shares her infectious smile and whom I know to be the very center of her world. So for all of our differences, Mrs. D and I have much in common.

When it rained last week and we got two days off from school, Mrs. D and her son R got the day off as well. And that day I received an e-mail from her that made me smile. She wrote:

"....isn't it great to get a day off because of a rain storm? When I was young, in India, we used to get "Rainy Days" during the monsoon season. The Principal would declare a day off, we would all come home, and get out in the rain and get as wet as possible. Popular lore has it that if you get wet in the monsoon rain you never get any heat related illnesses that season. I never thought that R would get to experience that, but he just did. That's the first thing he said when he woke up today. "Mom, we finally got a Rainy Day!. "

I love the idea that here in the United States, Mrs. D's most American son could celebrate the same tradition that his mother enjoyed when she was a child in India. I picture the rain falling on his upturned face, the one with the same smile that was also present half a world away on the face of a little girl who stood in the rain not that long ago.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Another Reason to Love My Job

So I am handing out a take-home quiz assignment today and I gently suggest that the class could have done better on the quiz had they consulted the book.......which is sort of the premise of a take home quiz. And the class looks at me and finally one student says, "we're sorry, well do better next time."

And they all nodded their heads solemnly.

I love these kids.

Monday, April 23, 2007


I recently finished reading Dave King's book The Ha-Ha. It's the story of a Vietnam veteran, Howie, who has a head injury such that he has lost the capacity to speak. Howie hasn't lost his intelligence and has found a way to communicate, though even he recognizes that it's substandard. He has a job and home, but his life is without color. He's living, but he isn't sure why. In the story, which Howie narrates, he suddenly has the opportunity to revise his life. Howie's new world is filled with the complexities of the deep human interaction that is required when he takes on the temporary care of a friend's 9 year old son, Ryan.

With the boy in his life, Howie finds both the joy that has been missing but also the prospect of pain and hurt that is involved when you love someone. It's a great story, in part because Howie is so funny and so human. You ache for him to be able to communicate with the world in the way that he can communicate with you, the reader.

As the mother of a 7 year old, I found the 9 year old Ryan compelling. Unlike Howie, I didn't wonder at the joys and frustrations of living with a child. I know these things first hand. And when Ryan returned to his own home, I felt so sad for Howie, who is pained by the loss. I thought about how I would feel if my son no longer lived with me.

I realize that is one of the things that makes me so sad about my break-up with Lisa. As angry as I still am at the disintegration of our family, I loved her and much of my sadness is wrapped up in my knowledge of life with a child that she is now missing. I can't fathom what it must be like to love a child and not be able to see him every day. To grow more distant from him, from his likes and dislikes and from his experiences. I am so sad for her that she doesn't get to see and hear him every day. There are times when I wish with all of my heart that I could make it better or easier for her.

My a-ha moment came when I realized that Lisa quite willingly chose this for herself. When she walked out, she knew that she would never again pack J.T.'s lunchbox, hear him talk about his favorite part of the day, or tuck him into his bed, let alone see him on Christmas morning. Did she know it might hurt? Does she hurt? I now realize that she probably doesn't hurt because she is so distant and removed from her emotions. So although I know what she is missing and I know what my son is missing in her departure from his life, I see more clearly that she doesn't know what she has lost. And though I am sad for her, she probably isn't sad for herself. She never appreciated what she had when she had it and so she cannot know what she has lost.

But I know and I am so deeply sad for her.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Spring Cleaning

In stark contrast to the chilling and relentless rains of last weekend, Mother Nature declared spring on Friday afternoon. The weekend has been simply glorious, with weather warm enough for short sleeves and shorts. The kittens are delighted with the good fortune of windows opened all over the house. I realized again why I love my living room with all of its windows and sunlight.

In keeping with Mother Nature's theme, I commenced with the spring cleaning, both indoors and out. Bedding was changed and aired out, bathrooms were scrubbed, and windows were washed. In J.T.'s room, I sifted through his dresser and packed away the long-sleeved shirts and long pants which had grown too short in favor of short sleeves and shorts pants. Warm weather pajamas were located and the flannels were packed away. The down comforter has been bundled up for another year.

But outside saw the most changes, thanks to my friend tlc and her power tools (I now have great desire for a leaf blower). Sticks were gathered up and flower beds cleared out. The back deck was blown clean. Sticks were collected and brought to the curb (looks like we could have a bonfire). The garden was made ready for some spring planting. I'm now ready to plan for some summer flowers.

Both outside and in, my home looks ready to greet the new season.

Slumber Party

J.T.'s buddy D spent the night last night. I made peanut butter cookies as a treat and they gobbled them up while they were still warm from the oven. All evening long I could hear them laughing upstairs. There was plenty of partying...........not so much with the slumbering as they were up at 7 am playing games in the playroom and generally having a big time.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


I am not a New Jersey native. I am a transplant to the mid-Atlantic region, via Nebraska, Tennessee, and starting this journey in California. I've always been comfortable with this seemingly shiftless pattern of my life and I love the fact that I have lived in different places.

Perhaps because I've had to grow comfortable in a new place, I look at my surroundings with an eye toward seeing and appreciating the differences and then planting my roots. I admire that which seems foreign or exotic about a new place, even well after that place has become my own. As long as I live in New Jersey, things like the turnpike, jug handle turns, and traffic circles will amuse me. My Jersey friends order a pie when I order a pizza. Folks around here go food shopping when I go grocery shopping. I love those differences.

And after a while the things that I love about my new place to live become a part of me. When I eat Mexican food, I am reminded of what I love about California. Never has a springtime passed since I moved to Tennessee nearly 20 years ago that I don't admire the plush beauty of the vivid colors in April. From my years in the midwest, I have an appreciation of the quiet hush of a deep snow. In New Jersey I like the woods and the water and I love the way the state is made up of many small towns all linked together but with patterns and habits of their own. And who doesn't love the abundance of Dunkin' Donuts in this state?

My son was two when we moved to New Jersey and for all intents and purposes, he is a native of the Garden State. I like that his roots are here but that he will always have a toe in the worlds that once were mine. Is there anything finer than the sound of my Jersey boy saying y'all? I am raising him to appreciate this place where he is rooted. I want him to love the idiosyncrasies of this state we call home. And I also want him to know that he can pack up and transplant himself to a new place, where he will plant his new roots to spread deep and wide even as he cultivates the old ones.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Back in Business

The sun is shining. My driveway is dry. I am once again a girl with a car. There was barely 10 gallons of water in the basement when I got home this afternoon. Friends came out of the woodwork to help me this week. So even though the funky smell in the basement remains there is some bright sunlight at the end of the tunnel.

Real Life Conversations with Lucy the Kitten

Because my week hasn't been hectic enough, Lucy the kitten is in heat. Her constant yowling and so forth has been a lovely distraction from the bilge in the basement. And, as was bound to happen, J.T. began to ask questions about why Lucy was so loud. So, in simple detail, I explained that Lucy's body is telling her to make a baby kitten and that we don't need any more kittens and so she cannot do that. This has led to the following conversation between Lucy and J.T.:

Lucy: "Yowl, moan, yowl, moan......."

J.T.: " There will be no babies for you, Miss Lucy. No babies!"

It's a one-man abstinence campaign worthy of the Bush Administration.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


At the end of a long day yesterday, while I was running an errand, the emissions light came on in my dashboard (the bright red light on the left in the photo). The owner's manual handily pointed out that I should "take the car to be serviced as soon as possible."

Okay, hi. Let's review. I've spent the previous 24 hours draining water from my basement and figuring out what to do with the increasingly funky smell that basement bilge leaves behind. And now I've got car trouble.

I arrange for a friend to pick me up and we drop my car off at the Saturn dealer last night. That same friend kindly brings J.T. and I to school this morning. Once there, I call to confirm that Saturn has received my car and will check things out. "Yup," they say, "we'll be in touch."

At noon, and not a little anxious, I called Saturn. "We'll check out your car soon," they report.

At 3:30, now increasingly frantic that I will be without my trusty steed for the rest of the day, I call again. "The mechanic is looking at it now," they inform me.

I arrange for another friend to bring me and the sassafras boy home from school. And then I find a third friend to bring us back to school tomorrow. Missions accomplished, I wait for the nice people at Saturn to call me.

At 5:30, my phone rings. It's Anthony from Saturn. "We still can't tell what the problem is", he says, "we'll need to keep the car until tomorrow."

And what choice do I have? I'm home and there is homework to be supervised, a workout to schedule, and supper to be made. And then there's the pesky matter of 40 gallons of water needing to be sucked out of the basement (but hey, the fill-rate is sharply dropping). So I tell Anthony at Saturn that I've got nothing but time.

And I settle in to wait, with great hope that the week can only get better, and with even greater gratitude to the kind friends who graciously helped me out. Again.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Waterworks, Day 3

At 11:30 pm last night I woke up to a phone call: school would be cancelled for Tuesday because so many roads in the area remained closed. I must confess that I was pleased I wouldn't have to face a morning commute on an alternative route (my drive to school and my backup drive to school are flooded and remain so today). And it would give me one more day to take care of the residual trouble in my own basement. I turned off the alarm and went back to sleep.

When I went to bed last night, the basement was nearly dry, with just a few puddles left behind. As I write this afternoon, there is no water. But the tide had come up again this morning and so I was once again in the business of water removal today. Today's water wasn't nearly the nightmare that yesterday's had been. There was no water around the hot water heater, the furnace, the party fridge, or the washer and dryer. But a large puddle had re-formed at the north end of my basement; deep enough to use the submersible pump that had saved the day yesterday.

Today's work crew was me and......... my 7 year old. He was surprisingly enthusiastic about the job and I set him up to sit on the washer and hold on to the hose as it drained water into the sink. I managed the pump, ensuring that it was always under water. J.T. quickly realized that the pump was basically a water cannon and he held the hose above the sink, calling for "more ammo." At least he didn't call me a wench. When his enthusiasm for the task waned and he made mention of child labor laws in the state of New Jersey, I provided a bowl of potato chips to help him maintain his work ethic.

In less than an hour, the magic pump had the water down to a level that could be managed with the wet/dry vac. I used that to remove the rest of the water, emptying out the bilge 16.5 gallons at a time. I can see the source of the water now and I'll keep at it with the wet/dry vac every few hours.

So in the end, I have a new knowledge home repair and a more intimate sympathy for those whose lives have been effected by rising waters. And, of course, a few good stories to tell.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Less Water = More Happiness

After about 4 hours of the amazing pump, the basement is 110% improved. There is plenty of damp concrete and there are still some puddles of water but that's a low, low tide compared with this morning's gently lapping basement surf. The appliances have survived and I've even been able to wash a few loads of laundry.

A big thanks to Miss S, whose inordinate calm in the face of the basement bilge really saved the day. The picture doesn't really convey how much better the situation is, but let's just say that you can no longer set sail on the ice chest. And that is a happy thing.

High Tide in My Basement

As of 9 am this morning my basement is filled with 3-4 inches of water. EVERYWHERE. Basically, it has a tidal pattern of its very own (let's hope that we've already seen high tide). The ex brought over a 64 gallon wet/dry shop vac last night. That was helpful, though it felt a bit like bailing out the Titanic with a thimble.

Today's plan is to get a pump to move things along. Because, dude, I need to get some laundry done and that just isn't going to happen when the washer and dryer are in danger of floating off.

Update I, 11:30 am: All efforts to locate a pump have failed and so the day is to be spent getting water out of the basement with a 16.5 gallon wet/dry vac. Universe, if you're listening, I completely yield to your powers and admit that yes, life does suck. Incredibly, it would seem.

Update II, 2:10 pm: Soon after I gave in to the despair of having to clean up gallons of water with a mop and a wet/dry vac, my friend S began a phone call campaign to find a pump. A good 7 phone calls later, the Home Depot in Bridgewater answered in the affirmative. We three shot out to the car (JT was wearing his Indian costume) and 20 minutes later I was the proud owner of a pump that can move 3600 gallons of basement bilge in an hour. Score!

We came back to Sassafras House, put on some flip flops, and waded into the basement, only later determining that standing in water and plugging in electrical appliances may not be the most sensible series of decisions two otherwise intelligent women can make. Then we watched the wonder of gallons of water being sucked out of the basement.

We've taken a break for some hot tea, but the water line is down a good two inches and I feel hopeful.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Written on Saturday night:

There is a big storm forecast for my corner of the world tonight. A nor'easter is expected to bring heavy rain and winds. There was a time when I would get excited about weather. When I was with Lisa, we did weather really well. We'd plan for snowstorms, we had supplies in the basement in the event of a tornado. A spring nor'easter (this is my first) would have likely caused a frenzy of activity for us, as we battened down the hatches and waited.

But there is no us anymore. And nearly 10 months into that fact, after more than nine years of being an us, I no longer know what was real and what was make believe. Did the family of three that I cherished ever really exist, or was it just a product of my hopes and imaginations? Did we really do weather well or was that just an excuse for us to pretend that we were a unit, a family?

I don't know. But I know that it's Saturday night and J.T. has a friend to sleep over. They are playing in the attic playroom and I can hear the sounds of their games and their laughter from my spot downstairs in the quiet. And that's like a metaphor for my life right now: I can see happiness all around me but I can't quite make myself a part of it.

I've charged up my cell phone and set out some flashlights in case we lose electricity, but that's about all the frenzy that I can manage. My life is good and in my head I know this. Tonight, I have work to do and a good book to read. I could watch some of the television shows that I record on the DVR, but never get around to watching. I could turn on a baseball game to fill the silence. I could call a friend and have a good laugh. I have a healthy happy boy, friends at the ready, a home that I love, a job I enjoy, two silly kittens, and many more blessings too innumerable to count. There's no reason to feel sad, to feel less than complete.

But my heart keeps reminding me that I loved her and all that she meant to me. My heart misses what I thought I had. And my heart can't seem to move on as quickly as my mind would have it. And so I wait. And not just for the nor'easter.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


In my quest to be the best sleepover mama EVER, I made chocolate pudding cake for tonight's sleepover with D. Because I rock.

The Pope and Me: Secret Identity

Several years ago, in what often seems like a previous life, I was a college professor teaching moral philosophy to students enrolled in an open enrollment college in rural Nebraska. If it sounds like the premise of some Kafkaesque story, let me assure you that it often felt that way.

Teaching moral philosophy to students who could care less about philosophy is a challenge. And as we read our way through excerpts of Aristotle's Ethics, Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative, and the ideas of Vaclav Havel, it was sometimes more of a challenge then I expected.

In the rural Midwest, a place that can rarely be called open-minded, I found myself awash in students who were ethical relativists. Yes, they would agree, genital mutilation is wrong in America. But those folks in Africa should be permitted to engage in such practices, they would argue. "It's their culture," the students would inform me, as if that explained it all.

I came to believe that ethical relativism is the governing principle of most every moral discourse in the United States. My students would tell me again and again that there is no absolute right or wrong. It's all relative to the situation, they would say. I must confess that I found this surprising, though there was once a time when I would have agreed with such an argument. In many ways, ethical relativism promotes a greater tolerance for cultural diversity. I think that is vitally important. But the more I read and taught moral philosophy, the more I came to believe that there is a bright and universal demarcation between right and wrong. Some moral standards must exist; right and wrong cannot be relative positions.

I know this is an odd conclusion for a liberal, educated, feminist, lesbian to articulate. I was born in 1967, the child of liberal baby boomer Californians. If anyone has a right to be a relativist, it's me. I grew up in an open-minded world governed by tolerance. Who am I to suggest that that there are absolute standards in the moral universe?

And yet I believe that there are absolute standards of moral behavior. I'm not sure how I would define it all, but there are some principles to which I believe that we must all adhere. Children are due our protection and must never be hurt. Genital mutilation is wrong. Always. We have a moral imperative to make every effort to end violence where it exists, or at least to avoid contributing to the sum amount of it in the world. Are these ideals that cannot be achieved? I don't really know the answer to that. Must we try to achieve them? Absolutely.

The new pope, Pope Benedict, has lately argued that ethical relativism run amok leaves us with no moral foundation. In a homily delivered to his fellow cardinals after the death of Pope John Paul, Benedict (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) said, "We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires." I couldn't agree more. And while I am certain that he and I have very different notions of right and wrong, I believe that he's right that relativism is the slippery slope to moral bankruptcy.

So here I am, an avowed liberal with a secret identity as the anti-ethical relativist. Who knew?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

In Which Luck is My Operative Strategy

A few days ago, J.T. announced that he would like to have a friendship bracelet to wear on his wrist. I promptly contracted out the job to a kind and creative student in the upper school and on Tuesday K brought a bracelet for J.T.

He was thrilled with the stylish beads. We tied it on his wrist on Wednesday.

And then he lost it.

On the way home from the bookstore last night (more on that later), he discovered that the bracelet was missing. I pulled the car over and we looked everywhere. It wasn't in the car. He could remember that he had the bracelet on at supper but he hadn't seen it since. I could see that he was trying not to cry. I had no idea where the bracelet had been lost and it was already past bedtime. But I didn't hesitate. I turned the car around to go back and retrace our steps. We were going to find his bracelet.

I am not the perfect mama, not by a long shot. I have moments when I'm irritable and moments when I lose my cool. Sometimes the burden of single mamahood is overwhelming and I have a good cry. And there is no question that J.T. knows my shortcomings. But I hope that he also knows that the things that matter to him matter to me. I hope that he knows that for the good and the bad and the hundreds of points in between, I will be by his side. And last night he certainly knew that I was doing my best to recover his lost treasure.

Luckily, we found it. It was under the table at the restaurant. He tucked it safely into his pocket to bring it home. He held my hand as we walked back to the car. And my heart was happy because on this night I was able to fix the problem; to get it right.

We got home and tied it on again, this time with some extra knots. And now it's not just a friendship bracelet, it's also a lucky bracelet.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Real Life Conversations with J.T.

Me: "I'm getting a new laptop today."

JT: "You are? Mama, what will happen to your blog?"

Me: "Oh it will be fine, honey. But thank you for your concern."

My 21st century son is quite clear on what we value around our house.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Among the many indignities of parenting is the fact that I rarely get to change clothes alone. I have been supervised at such times since February of 2000. This afternoon, I went upstairs after work to change into my workout clothes accompanied by the chatter and commentary of Sassafras boy who announced that my panties (pink stripes) were "silly."

"They aren't silly," I said, "they're cute."

"Cute?" he doubted this claim.

"Cute." I insisted.

"You might be cuddly, mama, but you aren't cute," the boy determined.

Glad we got this sorted out.

A Nice Family Moment

In the last few months, the local Jehovah Witness church has been targeting my neighborhood for conversion. They come almost every weekend, usually on Sunday morning. They often bring their children in their efforts to save the unfaithful among us. Though it often requires me to stop mid-workout, I answer their ring at the door and take their flier, politely letting them know that I'm not interested. I keep hoping that they will see the rainbow sticker on my car and realize that I've already made my commitment to the dark side.

I've explained to J.T. that we don't believe what they believe. And I've shown real thoughtfulness on this, not just boiling it down to the fact that they don't celebrate holidays with presents. If I revealed that fact, he'd probably greet them at the steps with a "what the f*&k?" look on his face.

They didn't come around last weekend and I had dared to hope that they had given us up for the lost cause that we are. But I'll be damned if they weren't here on Monday morning. J.T. saw them first. And in an instant, we agreed to hide in the back room while they walked our block. We took turns monitoring their progress and then giggled like two lunatics when they rang our doorbell. We shushed one another as we waited them out. There we were having a happy family moment avoiding the call of organized religion on our front porch.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Real Life Conversations with JT

When he is tucked into his bed at night, after stories have been read and when the sleeping music has been turned on, J.T. often turns philosophical, asking the big questions about life. Last night, as we were reviewing our Easter Sunday, he asked about his other grandparents.

J.T.: How come we don't ever call Grandma and Grandpa Yummy?

Mama: Well, they are Mommy's parents and I assume that she calls them so you can talk to them.

J.T.: Not as much as we call Grandma and Grandpa California. And when we do call, they don't both talk on the phone like Grandma and Grandpa California.

Mama: That's because they don't live together any more, sweetie. They are divorced.

J.T.: Oh, just like you and Mommy.

Mama: Yes.

And then there was this pause, and I could just hear the wheels turning in his head.

J.T.: Are they still friends?

Mama: I don't really know the answer to that question.

J.T.: Because you and Mommy aren't friends anymore, are you?

Mama: Well, sometimes it's hard for Mama and Mommy to be friends. But Mommy still loves you very much.

J.T.: I know, but I wish that she also loved you Mama, then she could be with us every day. Did she ever love us both? Because that would be nice.

And now I'm crying, and I don't have any more answers. So he looks at me, pats my shoulder, and says, "I love you Mama. And it's not your fault."

He has a kind soul, this boy of mine. And it's becoming ever more clear to me that he helps me to make my way in this world at least as much as I help him.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

In the News – Sunday Scribblings

I come from a family who was well-informed by osmosis. I don't recall that my parents ever sat us down and said: you must be well-informed. We just were. We listened to the morning news on the radio and we read the paper every day. My family watched the evening news ---- CBS was the preferred network. When I was 14 and requested that my parents get me a Newsweek subscription, they did so and then read the magazine themselves and talked with me about what I was reading. 25 years later, I still have that Newsweek subscription and I still read the magazine from cover-to-cover each week. I read a daily paper (though I do it on-line) and the radio news is how I start my day. On the weekends and during summer vacation, I add BBC World News to my daily habit. At age 7, my son recognizes the voices of National Public Radio. Though I no longer watch much TV news, I read a handful of political blogs every day.

I'm basically well-informed because I never knew a time when that wasn't important. I'm teaching my son the same habit, though the war in Iraq and the state of the world makes that hard. I don't want him exposed to violence and war. Children want to believe things are black and white, but how do I tell him that American soldiers are good when there is Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo? How do I explain what our nation is doing in Iraq? How do I explain that sometimes our elected leaders cannot be trusted? I am cautious and yet I let him listen. For all that I can't explain, the core value that I want my son to develop is the idea that being well-informed is important. He must listen and read and ask questions in order to know what he believes and where he stands.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


After a luscious Tuesday in which the temperature was nearly 70 degrees and JT and his friend M were outside for a big part of the afternoon, April showed why it is the cruelest month and the temperatures sank back down to highs in the 40s.


It rained yesterday but there was some sun today, despite the breezy cold. As I was driving home from some errands this afternoon, I thought that I saw some snow flurries. Then, as I looked, I realized that it wasn't snow but pollen.

Normally, I don't cheer at the sight of pollen. But as it means that spring is coming, it was a happy sight this afternoon.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Get Well Soon, H'dingers!

I started this post yesterday afternoon to wish my nephew Spencer a happy recovery from having his tonsils and adenoids removed. Spence, who is turning 7 in the next few weeks, gets to spend his spring break eating a lot of popsicles and talking his mother out of a little more root beer than usual. As his mother, my sister KO, would surely say, it's a below average way to spend your spring break.

I called my sister yesterday afternoon to see how Spence was doing. "Fine," she reported, "but I'm going to the hospital. I think that I have appendicitis." Apparently, she'd been feeling poorly and when she and M got Spence home from the hospital she continued to feel worse. So while Marty went out to get the tonsillectomy party supplies, KO decided that she'd better go to the hospital. The Sassafras Parents were summoned to help get things coordinated.

Shortly after that, the hospital decided that KO's appendix had to go. That night. So, in less than 24 hours, two of the four H'dingers had surgery yesterday afternoon. I'm hoping for the sake of a good story that the same insurance claim processor sees both claims. And I'd certainly suggest that the two other H'dingers in Clovis lie low, you know what I mean?

Get well soon, KO and Spence!

PS: The photo is KO and Spence at Disneyland, having a better time than they did yesterday!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Tough Cookie

Apparently, Lisa and J.T. bake cookies when he sees her each week. Lately, she sends him home to me with some leftovers, to pack in his lunchbox or enjoy with his friends. Yesterday, he came home with giant cookies they had made ("it's as big as my head, Mama," he told me) to share with his friend M, who was coming over for a sleepover.

Once she's gone, J.T. doesn't want the cookies. I don't eat the cookies. Their very presence in my house leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Last night, J.T. and M did have a giant cookie, though they eventually decided that they wanted some "real food" and so the remains of the cookie were left on the counter while I made the boys some hot dogs. And I couldn't help but think that it was a perfect metaphorical representation of my life: I provide the real food and the real parenting. I do it every day. And for a few hours each week, Captain Fun is good for some cookies and some fluff.

I'll take my job any time.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Some Thoughts on Frontloading

One of the things that drives the frontloading of presidential primaries is that every state in the nation (be it Texas, California, New Hampshire or pretty much any of the 47 others) believes that what's good for (insert your state's name here) is good for the nation. So we all believe our state is a good and special place, worthy of consideration by a presidential contender.

Fair enough. But this situation means that the current reality is that candidates go state-to-state and discuss that state's issue and pet projects. If you live in Minnesota, the fact that the candidates in Iowa are talking soy diesel and ethanol is good for you. But in California and New Jersey, those topics just don't matter. And California and New Jersey are leading the states who have grown tired of letting others select presidential candidates. The California primary has moved to March 5 and many others are looking to do the same. Under this regime, we'll have selected major party candidates by mid-March. For an election that is nearly 8 months away. Talk about election fatigue.

What the nation needs are candidates who can speak thoughtfully about national issues. We need to leave the local and regional issues to congressional candidates. It's fine with me if midwestern Senators wax on about ethanol, because I know that they need to do that to satisfy their constituents. But what of the national constituency? What are the issues that all of the United States needs to consider? How can we make those issues the center of presidential primaries? And how can we ensure that the election doesn't wear out its welcome in American households?

Regional primaries, that's how. It's too late for 2008, but for 2012, regional primaries would be one solution. We could organize into four or five regions (I prefer five: Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, Midwest, Northwest) and run regional primaries, taking turns in organizing the timing. For example, in 2012 we could run 5 "super" primaries, scheduled within four weeks of one another, starting in March and finishing by June. Fundraising could absorb the summer months before August party conventions kicked off a fall of election fun.

This scenario allows plenty of time to run a campaign and raise funds. Plenty of time to get national attention. And plenty of time to actually discuss the issues.

Sunday, April 01, 2007


I have just finished teaching the Gilded Age in U.S. History and we've been talking about populism, the movement that defines the end of the era. The election of 1896 was the last time that populism was alive and though the movement does ultimately inspire many of the progressive reforms of the early 20th century, the populist farmers were left out of those reforms. In fact, though our nation still romanticizes farms and the agrarian dream, 1896 was the last time that farmers had any real influence over an election in the United States. Thank god.......but that's a post for another day.

Farmers were essential to the development of populism, because they were suffering economically while much of the rest of the nation was experiencing economic growth. Farmers blamed railroads and monopolist business interests for their problems. And, to be sure, that was part of the problem. But the real problem for farmers was overproduction: each of them tried to increase their profits by planting more crops, only to overproduce and find that market prices were lower than ever. It was a vicious cycle, heightened by the fact that farmers' independent streak made them oblivious to the obvious solution of collectively organizing to put the screws to the nation.

So when I hear on NPR and read in the NY Times that this spring farmers are planting more corn than ever before in our nation's history in order to cash in on the growing demand for corn (fueled by the incredibly ignorant idea that ethanol is a good idea), I hear echoes of populism and overproduction. It just seems like such an obvious historical lesson. I predict that farmers will overproduce corn this year. Wealthy corporations (Cargill, ADM) will benefit and family farmers will suffer. The culprit will be overproduction, just as it was 110 years ago.